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The Poutine of Renfrew County

Posted by crowbiz on August 23, 2009

PopeyesMenu

What price, Paradise?

 

As with every entry, there’s some backstory begging to be revealed that I have to reign in out of fear of irrelevancy and reader boredom. Here is my valiant attempt at brevity:  Let’s just say that for a week in August for most of the past several years I find myself in the Madawaska Valley region, specifically in Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada.

 

Anyone familiar with these parts, or anywhere in eastern Canada, really, well knows the institution that goes by several names combining “chip” or “fry” with “wagon” or “truck.”  My favorite is the “chip wagon,” but feel free to use “chip truck,” “fry wagon,” or most prosaic, “fry truck.”  For those unblessed by experience with this phenomenon, it is usually a vehicle (camper, step van, school bus, etc) or seasonal shack positioned at crossroads or on various lots in small towns and outfitted as a quick meal stop offering typical transient fare such as hot dogs, burgers, fish and chips, and fries.  But not just any fries.  Sure, you can order and eat  “just any fries,” alright.  I’m talking the pinnacle of fries, the ne plus ultra of fries, Canada’s greatest contribution to the world, alongside hockey and politeness:  POUTINE.

 

If you need a refresher on this author’s feeling about foods like poutine, go back and read my entry on the Garbage Plate.  Poutine comes in a few forms, but it’s basically french fries topped with gravy and shredded/curd white cheese.  People will argue about the specifics, and I say let them, just don’t mess with mine.  My preference, and the one I encounter most frequently, is beef gravy and what appears to be mozzarella cheese.  Over the years we’ve joked about taking poutine high-end or experimental (gorgonzola?  parmesan?  pork gravy?  tarragon sprinkles? ) but it’s only an exercise on par with imagining what you’d do with your lottery winnings.  It will never really happen.

 

The name connotes ancient, rustic Quebecois origins.  Though they didn’t get theirs from a converted recreational vehicle up on blocks for the summer, you can imagine 17th century trappers settling in after a long day’s paddle and whipping up a satisfying heap of fried potatoes covered in a steaming glob of fatty, salty toppings.  (It’s hard for me to type, my hands are shaking so.)  With a heavenly dish like this as their legacy, its no wonder Canadians grew to be so polite.  They deserve to be outright smug, but the gustatory contentment derived from poutine has a pleasant mellowing effect.  Actually, poutine may be a mid-20th century invention, but it hardly takes much imagination to think variants have been around forever.  I’m not even going to link to any alleged information sources, since they ruin the spirit, and worse, contain falsehoods about poutine that I will not be party to passing along.

 

My first brush with poutine was many years ago at a pow wow in Salamanca, NY where I purchased a plateful of poutine to accompany a bear sausage sandwich from a First Nations vendor.  Despite seeing the many fry wagons of Fort Erie, Ontario all my life, I virtually forgot about poutine until the trips up to the Madawaska Valley with Mr Crow’s family became routine.  Reckless vacation-eating mode, paired with the relative difficulty procuring groceries locally makes visits to the chip wagons nearly mandatory.  Not to stop would be like crossing the Sahara and, upon reaching an oasis, blithely saying, “Nah, let’s skip this one.”

 

Much to my regret, I’ve hardly scratched the surface in making the chip wagon rounds in the region.  Let me be clear that I may not be an expert, but my poutine zealotry should count for a lot.  Or maybe I really could be an expert?   I’ve been at it long enough to see my favorite stand (a shed out in the backyard of a “real building” ice cream parlor) in Bancroft disappear.  Some have been a passing visit, others see me at the window year after year.  And here are some from this year:

 

 

Customers at Fast Eddy's, Combermere, Ontario

Customers at Fast Eddy's, Combermere, Ontario

 

 

 

 

 

This year's winner

This year's winner from Fast Eddy's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast Eddy’s, Combermere

Positioned shrewdly outside the laundromat/coffee shack/gift shop /internet cafe (a couple computers tucked into a closet behind the washers, sock display and slushie machine), Fast Eddy’s is rocking.  Combermere sees brisk summer activity, and F.E.’s is there to meet the need.  As is the case at the best chip wagons, the fries are hand cut before frying and the enormous piles of empty potato cartons attest to the steady business.  Stand in line, because there probably will be one, order at the window, then wander into the omni-center to sort through garden hoses, greeting cards, and community notices.  (Note: this all-purpose joint also has a commodious restroom with a claw foot bathtub, should the mood arise). You will buy a pair of Madawaska socks before walking out.  It’s not just about the poutine, you know, but the whole atmosphere.  Wander back out to F.E.’s truck and wait for the single, bust-ass worker to complete your order, then plop yourself at one of the many roadside tables.  Overhead this year was the following phrase:  “I just have to tell you, these are the best chips I’ve ever eaten!”   Poutine:  *****

 

 

 

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville, Ontario

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville, Ontario

 

 

 

 

Poutine at D&M

Poutine at D&M

 

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville 

Intersection of Route 515 and Addington Road.  This outlet is the quiet, dark horse in the chip wagon game.  Occupying one corner of the T-intersection is a large camper that offers a long list of items, including the other regional delight, the pogo, or corndog on a stick.  It even has the big RV awning stretched out over the condiment shelf.  Compared to the veritable metropolis of Combermere, Quadeville is merely an intersection with two buildings (one empty) and the fry truck.  When and why people flow through here is sort of mysterious to me, but then, I’m a real outsider, and therefore unentitled to pry.  Points have been subtracted for the serious infraction of using pre-cut, perhaps frozen fries, but to me, there is technically no such thing as a “bad fry.”  It’s rather like the term “bad sex” to a man.   Extra credit applies for two reasons: 1) It would appear that the proprietor of D & M lives in the RV, judging by the satellite dish and homey curtains in the non-kitchen half of the camper.  Forget the Zen serenity of life on a beautiful mountaintop; life in the chip wagon would be my goal for bliss attainment.  2) There is an electric bug zapper for insect-free outdoor dining at night – except the wagon closes at 7:00pm, well before dark during the wagon’s July 1st to September 1st schedule.  Poutine ***

 

 

 

 

 

Popeye's Charpit, Palmer Rapids, Ontario

Popeye's Charpit, Palmer Rapids, Ontario

 

 

 

 

Popeye's Poutine - note the chunky curd

Popeye's Poutine - note the chunky curd

 

Popeye’s Charpit, Palmer Rapids

Behind the grocery mini-mecca of Hannah’s on Route 515 in Palmer Rapids, at the back of a wide, sandy lot, lies the permanent shack version of the fry truck known as Popeye’s.  It features charming painted portraits of Olive Oyl and Popeye, evidently done in their very early years, since Popeye sports a full head of hair.  Though Palmer Rapids is technically smaller than even Quadeville, it has a larger feel to it, chiefly owing to the cornucopia that is Hannah’s (including fireworks and plenty of liquor) and the gas pump on the outskirts.  Standard fare and good prices.  Extra credit for: 1) offering pea meal on a bun, rather like a pea meal Whopper, and 2) actual cheese curds melted on the hand-cut fries – not the ubiquitous, if tasty, shredded cheese.  Typical of the kookiness one might encounter at a fry wagon was when the cook kindly and apologetically asked if I’d mind picking up a 2 liter carton of milk for her when I told her I would walk back up to Hannah’s to buy my beverage; there is a “rental agreement” that the stand itself cannot sell beverages so as not to compete with the big H.  Poutine ****

 

Others, oh, so many others

•Maynooth.  Hand-cut fries.  Memory tells me that everything was pretty good.

•Maple Leaf:  Route 62 between Combermere and Maynooth. The nameless “flower power” camper.  We’ve never stopped, but are intrigued by the hilarious appliqued flowers, reminiscent of my swinging neighbors bathroom in 1970.

•Bancroft:  Route 62.  A new truck several hundred feet away from my former favorite.  Could it be the same owners?

•South of Bancroft:  Route 28.  Several, but the yellow hut on the east side of the road, a few miles south of Bancroft, rang my bell a few years back.

 

 

Eager anticipation

Eager anticipation

See you in line.

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9 Responses to “The Poutine of Renfrew County”

  1. Nat said

    The one from Fast Eddy’s looks delish! The D&M version looks like the poutine I tried when I was in Montreal, very tasty.

  2. Elizabeth said

    We have something similar down here in the Houston area but they are called Taco Wagons and sell Tex-Mex such as breakfast tacos, regular tacos, burritos, etc.

  3. JD said

    Eastern LI used to have dirty waters trucks dotted alongside the major arteries. Not too many anymore.

  4. Susan said

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Susan

    http://dclottery.info

  5. Deb said

    A lot of the people frequenting Quadeville are, like me, cottagers just in the area for the summer. I’ve eaten at all of these places, and liked each of them. I’m easy to please, though, so that may not be a big recommendation.

    I like your pictures, and appreciate this blog!

  6. Marc said

    OK…now I am craving a poutine. As a native Northern Ontarian, now living in Buffalo, I am constantly on the prowl for such delectable poutines but chip wagons are few and far between (if any) in this area.

    Anyone have a small bus for sale…this chicken wing dominated region could use a jolt in the form of a good ‘ol Poutine Stand.

  7. […] The Poutine of Renfrew County […]

  8. […] The Poutine of Renfrew County […]

  9. Val said

    The chipwagon in Eganville (across from the Beer Store) is so busy in the summer that you can hardly get near it! For a good reason. VERY good chips! (And other, wonderful taste-tempting goodies…)

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